The original blockbuster which changed everything. Becoming a box office sensation and making Steven Spielberg into one of the most prominent auteur directors in cinematic history, tourists scared of the ocean ever since!
However, despite its sterling reputation, the story of Jaws is fantastically simple and teaches that sometimes less is more.
Let’s dive into this breakdown of Jaws using Save the Cat.
It’s easy to take the summer blockbuster for granted, but Jaws really did change the entire game. Nowadays, we know the summer blockbuster to be a big-budget film with a fantastical story that blows audiences away with things they’ve never seen before.
They’ve got a reputation for being a little simplistic, but total crowd-pleasers that rake in the box office.
Jaws has, at its center, a single key idea that drives everything. What if there was a murderous shark in the waters?
What would you do?
Audiences could see themselves in the people of the film. It is fear above all else that drives the film’s drama. The shark in Jaws is as iconic as the murder in the shower scene in Hitchock’s Pyscho.
Keeping things simple and focused on character and location means that the film is friendly for everyone.
Now let’s dive into the main characters in Jaws.
Brody (Roy Schneider)
Brody is the new sheriff of the small town of Amity who has come with his wife and kids from bustling New York. Now, in a sleepier town, Brody’s job is more relaxing, but he finds himself at the center of a potential catastrophe once shark victims start showing up on the town’s beaches.
Quint (Robert Shaw)
Quint is an old-timey sailor whose grizzled looks and strange gaze tell an audience everything they need to know. This guy means business. He offers to hunt the great white terrorizing the beaches of Amity for money. He’s an isolated and expert fisherman who has a lifetime of experience to back him up.
Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss)
Hooper is an independent oceanographer hired by the Amity townspeople to weigh in on the issue. The polar opposite of Quint, Hooper is an academic who uses his knowledge to help Brody and Quint catch the shark.
Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton)
The mayor of the town, Vaughn is a smooth operator who wears nice suits and is very reluctant to follow Brody’s advice to shut down the beaches until the threat of the shark is dealt with. However, his concern for profits ends up causing disaster for the small town.
In an iconic opening, a group of teenagers are enjoying themselves by the sea. A guy and a girl we will come to know as Chrissie Watkins go to the ocean to go skinny dipping. Chrissie goes out into the ocean but is attacked by something under the water. However, the guy got too drunk and passed out on the beach, leaving Chrissie to her grisly fate.
In incredibly efficient fashion, Spielberg quickly sets up the situation with our protagonist Chief Brody. He’s new in town and has brought his wife and kids. He’s still got a bit of the big city attitude, but he seems to like the quiet of his new surroundings.
However, things take a turn for the worse when Chrissie’s body is discovered on the beach, mangled. It’s not entirely clear what happened, but Brody thinks it is a shark attack. Mayor Vaughn suggests that Chrissie might have been the victim of a boating accident, and the mortician agrees.
Still, Brody isn’t 100% sold and keeps a close eye, but he doesn’t want to overreact so he doesn’t close the beaches. However, when the shark re-emerges and attacks families in the ocean it becomes crystal clear that Chrissie’s death was no boating accident, but a shark attack.
No more denials, it’s time to get the shark. Vaughn agrees to close the beaches for a short period of time while the police try to figure things out, but the people of Amity are anxious to get the beaches open again in time for the 4th July. The town is a tourist hotspot, so closing during Summer will hurt their bottom lines.
Here, we meet Quint and Brody. Quint offers to hunt the shark for a large amount of money, which the town board takes under advisement. Meanwhile, Brody gets Hooper, an oceanographer in to help with getting the shark.
Two fishermen bring in a tiger shark they’ve captured and the town celebrates the success. However, Hooper isn’t convinced. He uses the autopsy of Chrissie’s body to prove that the bite marks on her body are much larger. A great white shark probably killed her, not a tiger shark.
However, Vaughn refuses to close the beaches as the 4th of July approaches. Disaster beckons.
And sure enough, disaster arrives on the 4th of July when the great white attacks yet again, leading to a total bloodbath. Needless to say, the reputation of Amity is likely ruined and the beaches will be closed.
However, Brody, Quint, and Hooper are determined to get that shark, no matter what.
Aboard a fishing vessel named The Orca, Brody, Hooper, and Quint venture out into the ocean with a menagerie of weaponry to kill the shark that has been terrorizing Amity. Quint and Hooper frequently clash.
Then, finally, we get out first look at the shark as Brody attempts to bait it. It’s massive, and suddenly the three men seem hopelessly outclassed. At night, Quint shares the story of being a survivor of the USS Indianapolis in WW2 and how sharks attacked him way back then. It’s clear that he has a personal vendetta that needs solving.
The shark attacks and takes a big hunk out of the Orca. Now sinking, the hunters are going to die very soon.
So, they decide on an all-out risky attack. Hooper gets in the shark cage to try and harpoon the shark with a drug that will make it sleep, but is sent to the seabed in the tank.
Quint is eaten as he tries to fight the shark. Alone on the ship, Brody manages to jam a pressurized scuba mask into the shark’s mouth and detonates it, exploding the ship and the shark to pieces.
The shark dead, and Brody uses the driftwood to paddle back to shore, joined by Hooper who made it out too.
How can we write a thriller as successful as Jaws?
If Jaws teaches anything about how to make a movie, it’s that a great story often hinges on one singular key hook. A great movie director pushes this to the maximum.
Here, Spielberg uses our fear of sharks against us constantly and uses it to make his story exciting all the way through. Find your hook, and exploit it as much as you can.
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